City of Nanaimo councillors want to move ahead with a plastic bag ban, but have decided to work within the province’s time frame.
At a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday, councillors received a staff report and voted on recommended ways for the city to move forward with implementing a ban. Coun. Tyler Brown’s motion to recommend a ban on single-use checkout bags without waiting for Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy approval was defeated 5-4, and a subsequent motion to recommend a ban subject to provincial approval passed unanimously.
Nanaimo’s previous council asked for a ban in late 2017 and one year later, current council directed staff to proceed with public consultation. That engagement happened in early 2019, but shortly after that, the federal and provincial governments announced their own intentions to regulate single-use plastics and the City of Victoria’s plastic-bag ban was struck down by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Despite Victoria’s experience, other municipalities have implemented plastic bag bans, including Qualicum Beach, Cumberland, Tofino and Ucluelet.
“I appreciate that it’s a complex topic, but I think you can either lag or you can lead, and plastic bags, and in general, single-use items, are contamination in our waste stream and they all add up…” Brown said. “I see this as congruent with larger, ambitious goals around 90 per cent [waste] diversion.”
He said he felt City of Nanaimo staff has been cognizant of the city’s areas of jurisdiction and based the bylaw on regulating municipal services.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht supported Brown’s motion, saying that Victoria achieved 97 per cent compliance with its ban and said 97 per cent compliance in Nanaimo would represent more than 2 million plastic bags per year.
“We have the right to regulate businesses with respect to municipal purposes and that involves contamination in our recycling and it involves plastic bags in our sewer infrastructure and I think we need to stand up and exercise our rights,” he said.
However, a majority of council members preferred to wait for ministry approval, with some mentioning a desire to protect taxpayers from potential court costs if a plastic bag ban were to be challenged.
“It’s fairly clear what the law is…” said Mayor Leonard Krog. “A matter of a few weeks, months, potentially, here or there before this happens, I don’t see as that substantial a problem.”
Coun. Ian Thorpe agreed that waiting for provincial approval is “more prudent and sensible” and said that he still hopes a single-use checkout bag ban will happen “in the short term.”
The initial motion, to recommend moving forward with a ban without waiting for provincial approval, was defeated with Krog and councillors Thorpe, Sheryl Armstrong, Jim Turley and Zeni Maartman opposed.
The city’s public engagement found that 50 per cent of businesses surveyed did not provide plastic bags and 61 per cent provided alternatives to plastic bags. Businesses surveyed that provide plastic bags and track quantities supply more than 2.5 million bags per year.
Among residents surveyed, 65 per cent supported a ban on single-use plastic checkout bags.
“[There’s] strong support both on the residential side and on the business side for moving forward with a regulation specifically banning single-use plastic bags and charging a fee for single-use paper bags,” said David Thompson, the city’s acting manager of sanitation and recycling. “A lot of retailers and residents are already not using single-use bags, so that’s a good thing. That behaviour’s already started.”
A revised checkout bag regulation bylaw will go before council for three readings and would then be forwarded to the provincial ministry.